Materials Management tackle PPE hurdles

The news reports were alarming in late March about a global shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE. The masks, face shields, gloves and gowns that medical professionals would need to keep themselves safe from COVID-19 were suddenly required all over the world at an unprecedented volume. How could Guelph General Hospital ensure that our medical professionals had what they needed?

Pandemic storage is constantly maintained here with items nearing expiry getting pulled out for use and replacement items entered back in. This safety net of supplies was carefully triple checked against ‘average daily use’ figures to determine how long they might last. However, nothing is ‘average’ about COVID-19 and efforts began immediately to get our contracted suppliers to deliver more, as well as seeking out alternate suppliers.

Our purchasers found that the rapid jump in demand for PPE caused prices to become volatile and inflated. Our team also found that the market was flooded with counterfeit items that were not Health Canada approved or even FDA approved for use in the United States. There were a lot of risky opportunities that required due diligence before any commitments to procure were made. No item is used at Guelph General Hospital unless produced by an approved supplier and with documentation supplied proving its effectiveness and safety.

It soon became clear that manufacturers were not always able to meet demand. This meant we received partial orders that would not likely meet our increased needs. Our team of purchasers were scrambling to secure orders for hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, nitrile gloves, disposable isolation gowns as well as staying on top of everything else routinely used for patient care from gauze, to catheters, to sterile drapes.

To provide a sense of scale for these pandemic-era purchases, the hospital has received 400,000 ear loop masks with a continuing delivery of 40,000 a month. Recently 21 skids of nitrile examination gloves arrived – that is 3.2 million pairs! Another recent purchase was 46,000 disposable isolation gowns.The most sought-after PPE item has been the N95 mask capable of preventing transmission of COVID-19 during aerosol-generating procedures like intubation. The N95s are still a procurement challenge and the team is now reviewing secondary possible manufacturers. Fortunately for us, we were able to secure a limited and short-term supply from some of our community partners and some more via generous community donations. Equipment still needed to be purchased even during the rush to secure PPE, especially 20 new ventilators to prepare for the projected increase in patients needing assistance with breathing.

Materials Management also completed the procurement of 33 various endoscopes and a new Patient Monitoring System. Materials Management, together with our Biomedical and Information Technology Departments, ensured that Guelph’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre had all of the equipment and supplies it needed. Now they are focused on procuring everything required for the new Emergency Department (ED) temporary structure due to arrive in November and the reworked space in the current ED.

Materials Management staff are dedicated healthcare supply chain professionals and we couldn’t provide our excellent patient care without them. They are unsung healthcare heroes who are tirelessly fighting COVID-19 alongside physicians, nurses and other health care workers.

This story originated on Guelph General Hospital’s Facebook page on October 22nd, 2020 as part of its #behindthemask series to share how the Hospital is working hard to protect patients and visitors from #COVID19.